Why south London desperately needs the Overground instead of Southeastern, Southern and South West trains

Jo Corfield
Commuter Trains Are Carrying 40 Per Cent Above Their Passeneger Capacity
Capacity on south London's trains is already tight (Source: Getty)

South London desperately needs a transport upgrade. Estimates show that demand for rail travel could grow by as much as 100 per cent by 2035. Yet south London's transport system is already under enormous pressure.

Look at the Tube map and you would think that London more or less stops just south of the Thames. In fact around a third of Londoners live there, though it only has one eighth of Transport for London stations.

According to Transport for London, 77 per cent of all tube delays due to overcrowding occur south of the river, and eight of the ten busiest bus routes.

South London is criss-crossed by a network of commuter lines. But these don't provide anything like the quality of service that TfL lines provide.

In Brixton, for example, the tube station on the Victoria line sees twenty-nine million people entering and leaving the station each year, while the nearby suburban rail station gets just one million.

Read more: Scrap south London trains for Overground says think tank

​What can the Mayor do to address the pressures facing south London travellers? ​

​In our latest report, we argue that TfL should take over south London's suburban network and extend its Overground service across it. This plan builds on the success of the existing orange Overground.

Before the creation of the Overground, the suburban railway network in north and east London was unreliable, rundown and underused. When Transport for London took over in 2007, the network was transformed and ridership jumped 80 per cent in the first four years alone.

Based on analysis from Thales, we suggest that improved signalling and train management systems, track layout amendments, new trains and better platform management could increase the number of trains servicing south London to 6 trains per hour - possibly even more - so creating a 'turn up and go service'​ just like the one that has proved so successful on the existing Overground.

This isn’t going to happen overnight. In order to deliver a high-frequency, orange standard service in south London the Department for Transport should devolve suburban rail services to Transport for London, as the current franchises expire. The government would need to help with costs to upgrade, though these would be cheaper than Crossrail.

Turning South London Orange won't just relieve the growing pressures on south London's transport system. It will also stimulate housing growth and support employment. But without these upgrades, south London will grind to a halt.

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